The Coup Against Sovereignty

Queen Liliuokalani

Queen Liliuokalani

The history of the Hawaiian holocaust begins in 1778 with Cook’s voyages, his death at Kealakekua Bay, and the British reprisal.  Protestant missionaries from New England arrived in 1820, filling a cultural vacuum created by the breaking of the pre-contact religion’s Kapu system in 1819. The missionaries ended up as a merchant and landowning class.

By the 1880’s, the conflict between the ascendancy of the oligarchy of largely American missionary-descended merchants and planters and native aspirations – exacerbated by US economic and military interests – erupts into violence. King Kalakaua tries unifying Polynesia into a confederacy of isles and further angers the Caucasian oligarchy with his nativist revival of traditional culture, such as hula, and a “Merry Monarch” lifestyle the puritans perceived as debauched and profligate.

The US military demands exclusive rights in 1886 to Pearl Harbor as a condition for renewing the Reciprocity Treaty, which gave Hawaii planters tariff-free access to US markets; the King and grass roots Hawaiians strongly opposed territorial cession. In January 1887, Lorrin Thurston, Sanford Dole and other oligarchs form a pro-annexationist secret society, the Hawaiian League.

Triggered by a May 1887 opium scandal, the Hawaiian League and the para-military, all-Hoale Honolulu Rifles confront King Kalakaua and impose the “Bayonet Constitution” allowing Kalakua to reign but not rule. A new Cabinet is formed with Thurston as Interior Minister, Pearl Harbor is ceded to Washington, and the Reciprocity Treaty is renewed.

King Kalakaua

King Kalakaua

But the sovereignty struggle continues. Kalakaua insists on using his last political prerogative – veto power. On July 30, 1889 Hawaiian nationalist Robert Wilcox and his “Redshirts” stage an armed revolt against the Bayonet Constitution, which is put down; troops from the USS Adams patrol Honolulu. The following year Wilcox turned to the electoral process – his Hawaiian Political Association joined forces with working class whites in the Merchanics’ and Workingmen’s Political Protective Association. Their National Reform Party wins half of the legislature’s seats, weakening the Bayonet Constitution’s cabinet, amidst talk of a constitutional convention. Suffering from ill health, King Kalakaua dies on January 20, 1891 at San Francisco.

His younger sister Liliuokalani accedes to the throne determined to revive royal power. The McKinley Act removes the tariff on raw sugar entering America and gives a two-cent per pound bounty for domestic sugar, undermining the Reciprocity Treaty, threatening to destroy Hawaii’s planter-ocracy. Thurston forms another cabal – the Annexation Club.

In January 1893, the missionary descendants oppose opium and lottery bills as sugar’s depression deepens. On January 14 Queen Liliuokalani prorogues the legislature and prepares for an incendiary act.

Her Majesty attempts promulgating a new constitution which two-thirds of the Hawaiians petitioned for that would reverse the Bayonet Constitution and reinvest political power in the monarchy and native electorate. Deeming her plan to be “revolutionary”, Thurston forms the Committee of Safety – 12 of its original 1 members are Annexation Club members. The pro-annexationist, anti-indigenous tone of US President Harrison and Minister Stevens stimulated the high treason.

How did the coup d’etat and American take-over of Hawaii happen?

Monday, January 16, 1893

9.00am-12.00pm: The Committee of Public Safety, mainly of businessmen with American backgrounds, meet at the Honolulu law office of Lorrin Thurston. The Co-conspirators arrange a mass meeting and sign a letter to US Minister John Stevens: “. . . the public safety is menaced and lives and property are in peril, and we appeal to you and the United States forces at your command for assistance . . . we pray for the protection of the United States forces” upon “a further request received from the committee.”

11.00am: American attorney and committee member Henry Cooper goes to Honolulu Harbour to notify USS Boston Captain Wiltse of the committee’s request – but Wiltse, anticipating the request, had already ordered his troops to prepare for landing.

5.00pm:  After their early supper, Lt. Commander Swinburne lands 162 Marines with Gatling (machine) guns, Howitzer cannons, double cartridge belts filled with ammunition, and carbines on four boats at Nuuanu Avenue. The troops march up Fort Street to Merchant Street, rifles pointing in the direction of Iolani Place, seat of the Hawaiian monarchy. Some blue-jackets are posted the US consulate and legation. The Marines march past Iolani Place on King Street, halting across from Kawaiahao Church. Shortly afterwards, the invaders halt at the Atherton estate at King and Alapai Streets.

8.00pm:  The Committee of Safety set up a Provisional Government (PG) and select Sanford Dole as president.

Tuesday, January 17, 1893

Early morning:  Thurston dictates a proclamation deposing the queen, annulling the monarchy, and creating a Provisional Government until America annexes Hawaii.

9.00am:   Aware of the Committee of Safety’s activities, Queen Liliuokalani meets with Samuel Damon, a businessman close to her. Her Majesty advises him to join the committee’s advisory council, in order to influence them.

10.00am:  Dole gives Minister Stevens a letter announcing the establishment of the PG and asking for US recognition. Stevens responds: “I think you have a great opportunity”.

2.00pm:  The Queen’s cabinet ministers go to the US legation. As Stevens claims to be sick, he meets briefly with Foreign Minister Parker and Attorney-General Peterson. The A-G says Stevens refuses to assist the Queen and threatens the Marines will intervene if royalist forces fight the committee. Stevens also reportedly asserts he will recognize a Provisional Government if it is set up.

2.30pm:   Committee members sign Thurston’s proclamation at Smith’s office. The committee prepares to go to Government House. A native policemen grabs the reins of a horse pulling a wagon full of ammunition leaving E.O. Hall & Son’s King Street store, delayed by a tram. The insurgents’ ordinance officer, Captain John Good, shoots the policeman. The bullet enters Lialoha’s arm and left breast. In the confusion, the Committee of Safety quickly goes unobserved to the Government Building.

There at nearly empty Ali’iolani Hale, American Henry Cooper – who had come to Hawaii in 1892 and is not a citizen of the Kingdom – reads Thurston’s proclamation abrogating the monarchy and establishing a “Provisional Government. . . until terms of a union with the United States have been negotiated and agreed upon.”

The Provisional Government puts ammunition in the hall, declares martial law, closes saloons, proclaims the “death penalty for an act of treason”, and notifies the diplomatic corps of the take over. Committee member C.L. Carter takes a note by Dole to Minister Stevens announcing the insurrection.

2.45pm:   At the police station – which Marshal Wilson refuses to surrender without written orders from the Queen and her ministers – the Cabinet writes to Minister Stevens a note asking if he has recognized the PG “and, if not . . . respectfully request the assistance of your government in preserving the peace of the country.” Charles Hopkins delivers the note to the US legation. Hopkins insists upon an immediate reply when Stevens’ daughter requests an hour delay on account of her father’s illness.

3.10pm:   Hopkins returns to the police station with a note for Foreign Minister Parker. [NOTE: There is dispute on this point and it’s timing.] The Cabinet is ready to repress the uprising until receiving Minister Stevens’ response, leading them “to surrender, and yield to America.”

4.00-5.00pm:   Stevens send a note to the Cabinet, recognizing the PG. Minister Stevens’ note to Dole announcing: “A Provisional Government. . . being in full possession of the Government Building, the Archives, and the treasury and in control of the capital of the Hawaiian Islands, I hereby recognize de facto Government of the Hawaiian Islands.”

5.00pm:   The Cabinet meets with Liliuokalani. Supporters of the PG led by the Queen’s trusted adviser Damon meet with Her Majesty at Iolani Palace. Damon warns, “If you resist, there will be bloodshed and a great many killed. You will probably be killed. Joseph Carter and Damon tell Liliuokalani they would help her formulate any desired protest. Attorney Paul Neumann cleverly drafts the protest:

“. . .I yield to the superior force of the United States of America whose Minister Plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused the United States troops to be landed at Honolulu an declaring he would support such provisional government. Now to avoid collision of armed forces and perhaps loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by such forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

7.00pm:   Dole accepts without reading the queen’s carefully crafted statement, which Dole endorses. Marshal Wilson finally surrenders the police station. Captain Samuel Nowlein’s 272-man Queen’s Royal Guard surrender.

8.00pm:  The PG executive and advisory councils undertake the day’s final act, deciding to send three commissioners – Thurston Wilder, and Castle – to Washington to negotiate annexation by the United States.

The independent Kingdom of Hawaii is overthrown.


  1. Joe Englert says

    In an age when the bloodless corporations are taking more and more of our earth, this history should be told and remembered, so maybe we as humans can band together and inteligently bring life back to natural order.

  2. says

    Who are “The Descendants?”
    By Occupy Wall Street—Maui, the A & B Working Group
    “The Descendants,” starring George Clooney, is a feel-good domestic drama about an absent dad coming to terms with a comatose wife and two young daughters. It’s also a story about who owns the land.
    Matt King (George Clooney) is a descendant of a Hawaiian princess who married a missionary. He is a Honolulu-based lawyer and the sole trustee of a family trust that controls 25,000 acres of unspoiled land on the island of Kaua’i. The trust will expire in seven years because of the rule against perpetuities, so the cousins and extended King family have decided to sell the land for development as condominiums, a resort and golf course.
    The film is based on the first novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, a native Hawaiian with a mixed cultural and privileged background similar to Matt King. Her grandmother was from the Wilcox missionary family that came to Hawaii in 1836 on the same boat with missionaries Castle and Cooke. The children of Castle and Cooke turned native lands into pineapple plantations and then into resort communities. They were one of the original Big Five that ruled Hawaii.
    A brief history of property rights in Hawaii:
    1840: The first Hawaiian Constitution says the land of Hawaii belongs to the people to be ruled by the king, the chiefs and the people who lived on it–in equal shares.
    1848: The Great Mahele, the dividing up of the land, gave ownership of 60% of the land to the king, 39% to the chiefs and 1% to the Maka’ainana or native tenants. Very quickly Western interests began to buy up Hawaiian land for pineapple and sugar cane plantations.
    1893: U. S. Marines invade and occupy Hawaii and Hawaii is annexed to the U. S. in what U. S. President Cleveland called “an act of war” against a peaceful nation. Only people who owned property were allowed to vote and landless native Hawaiians and Asians were stripped of the rights of citizenship.
    Not all plantation owners supported the annexation. Henry Perrine Baldwin (who with Samuel Alexander, both sons of missionaries in Maui, became A & B, one of the Big Five—and ultimately the Big One of the Big Five once Castle and Cooke joined them at the beginning of the 20th century) opposed the takeover because the annexation limited their powers of involuntary servitude. Prior to the invasion a plantation owner could have an indentured servant sent to a chain gang if they refused to work. Hubert Edson, an American engineer who worked on the A & B plantation reported in his book Sugar From Scarcity to Surplus, “This partner [Baldwin], a descendant of a missionary family was a man of tremendous energy, generally directed more to the agricultural side of the business than to the factory. He was a deeply religious man and there was a general impression among employees that his favor was secured as much by going to church on Sunday as by doing your work efficiently . . . However, it seemed to me that his actions, like those of many zealots, contradicted the religion in which he professed to believe. An example of this was his unrelenting attitude toward the indentured labor force . . . The contract contained a clause . . . inflicting a severe penalty—a long term on government road work—when they failed to report for work . . . The resident manager attended court proceedings to insist on the enforcement of this penalty, which in effect, kept the workers indefinitely in slavery. Just how his religion countenanced this attitude I couldn’t understand . . . “
    A & B in Maui:
    In 1869 Alexander and Baldwin bought 12 acres in Maui for $110. The next year they bought 559 acres for $8000. Today, A & B owns 67,335 acres in Maui. Most of that land is zoned agricultural and is used in sugar cane production. In the nineteenth century A & B carved tunnels through Mt. Haleakala and wide irrigation ditches using indentured Chinese labor. In doing so they diverted the water that fed the native pondfields necessary for growing the taro plant—the principal food of the Hawaiians. A & B owns 16,000 acres of watershed lands in East Maui. They own 4 water licenses to 30,000 acres owned by the State of Hawaii in East Maui, but these are revocable permits that must be renewed annually. They also have had some legal trouble for burning the sugar cane during harvest. The amount of damage that has been done to agricultural workers and the people of Hawaii in terms of asthma and respiratory diseases will still have to be calculated.
    Agriculture is only one of three business interests of A & B. They also wholly own Matson Navigation Company, which began as the way to transport pineapples and sugar to California. Today (according to the Anderson and Baldwin 2010 Annual Report) Matson accounts for 78% of the revenue, 54% of the operating profit and 47% of the identifiable assets of A & B. With the planned military build-up in Guam, Matson is looking forward to major profits in the years ahead. Matson is the principal transport for Chinese goods from Hong Kong to Long Beach, California. But, up to now, they’ve been sending empty ships back to pick up Chinese imports. It will be much more profitable to be able to fill those ships with military hardware and supplies and carry them back to China via Guam.
    The third area of business for A & B is real estate. Although it only accounted for 13% of the revenue for the corporation, it made up 43% of the operating profit and it holds 47% of identifiable assets. From the Annual Report: “A&B was the original developer of the Wailea Resort, beginning in the 1970’s and continuing until A & B sold the Resort to the Shinwa Golf Group in 1989.” [Shinwa Golf Group owns and operates golf resorts, hotels, and golf courses. The company is based in Kyoto, Japan.]
    “From 2004 to 2007, A & B sold 29 single-family homesites at Wailea’s Golf Vistas subdivision and four bulk parcels, a three acre business parcel and a 4.6 acre parcel. A & B continues its planning, design and permitting activities at the 13 acre parcel, planned for 75 multi-family units and a 13.7 acre parcel planned for a 65,000 square foot commercial center, single-family lots fronting the Blue Course, and a 36 unit condominium project.”
    This development begins to sound a lot like the proposed development in “The Descendants:” luxury hotels, shopping centers, fancy homes and a couple of golf courses.
    Spoiler Alert:
    But at the last moment, Matt King decides he’s not going to sacrifice paradise for the almighty dollar. He kills the development and saves the natural environment.
    But that’s revisionist history. That’s not the way the real world works. The real descendants of the missionary families that originally took the islands away from the native Hawaiians are now a bloodless corporation that only cares about profit and the bottom line. They’re not concerned about native fishing rights and burial grounds. They’re only concerned about making money. That’s their job. That’s what corporations do.
    They’re still in sugar cane because they want to hold onto the land, and agricultural zoning gives them a nice tax advantage. They also want to hold onto the water rights so they can use them for future development.
    When they first proposed the Grand Wailea Resort, public opposition was so great it seemed to stop the project, but, somehow, quietly, elected officials went along with A & B and the luxury hotels and condos got built, and the fairways knocked out the only access road from South Maui to Hana.
    The operating profit margin for agriculture was only 3.7% in 2010, and it was that high only because A & B was able to convince Congress to keep sugar prices artificially high. It seems inevitable that price supports for sugar won’t have a promising future.
    But A & B have other plans for that land, especially the agricultural land around Kahului:
    The Kane Street Development will have 103 residential condominium units in five four story buildings with 20,000 square feet of commercial space, but the project is on hold until “market conditions improve.”
    The Kahului Town Center will have a 19 acre Kahului Shopping Center block that reflects the creation of a traditional ‘town center.’ There will be 440 residential condominiums and 240,000 square feet of retail/office space. But this project is delayed because of market conditions.
    The Maui Business Park II: “In 2008 A & B received final zoning approval for 179 acres in Kahului, Maui, representing the second phase of its Maui Business Park project, from agriculture to light industrial.” But this project, too, waits for improved business conditions.
    This is the real legacy of “The Descendants:” a faceless greed that destroys the land, the water, the air and the people of Hawaii. George Clooney puts too handsome a face on it.
    Corporations (no matter what Mitt Romney and the Supreme Court say) are not people. And they are certainly not George Clooney.

  3. Eugene Hernandez says

    Thank you for that forgotten information. People also forget that we have Gitmo as a result of the Spanish American war and should have been out of there years ago. This base should have went to its rightful owners- The Cuban Government

  4. MA Kaiulani Milham says

    Major Mahalos to you, Ed Rampell, for sharing this with your readers and for the comprehensive, yet concise, fact-filled presentation. The time has come for Hawai’i’s story to be told!

  5. John Peeler says

    Even progressive critics of US imperialism tend to forget—or never knew—about this shameful history. Good work!

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